Now, right-wing objects to usage of Urdu, the connecting thread of our shared culture

Fab India had to withdraw its ad – Jashn- e Riwaaz! Why? Because some of its clients or buyers or the communal characters around didn’t quite approve of the Urdu sounding phrase!

Still from FabIndia's ad
Still from FabIndia's ad
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Humra Quraishi

No matter how hard I try to view from the 'glass half- full angle', but I just can’t. As nothing seems to be going fine. No sudden eruption, but an ongoing decline right since the summer of 2014. In fact, we have reached such a hopeless situation that nothing really shocks. Perhaps, in these recent years we have been witnessing too many perversions, deprivations, human disasters, that nothing seems to shock now. We have become numb.

In fact, soon after the Modi government took charge, the masses awaited miracles to take off, as promised in the speeches at the political rallies, but only severe setbacks and bigger disappointments held out. Correct me if I’m wrong but 2016 will be remembered as the year of ‘notebandi’ (demonetisation). One of the biggest setbacks for the citizens of this country was demonetisation. And in 2017, Mahatma Gandhi was ‘removed’ from the charkha and his place was ‘taken’ by Narendra Modi. Shots of Khadi Udyog’s new-year calendar had hit many and public outcry followed: Even Mahatma Gandhi is not spared in these fascist times!

And even as the establishment continued to come up with those hollow development slogans, anger had started spreading out. In 2017, for the first time in the recent history of India, farmers travelled from the far flung regions; reaching New Delhi, squatting right in the midst of the capital city, focusing on their plight…Today, of course, our farmers are protesting at the Delhi borders and in several states of the country. The farmers are upset and angry with the passage of the three Farm Bills.

In fact, in these recent years we have witnessed less of governance and more of distracting tactics — surgical strikes, war cries, setting one community against the other, new names for cities and townships, and even the roads!

The deterioration continues, with unemployment and the economic crisis overtaking everyday life. Communal violence has been accelerating as never before.

And in the midst of fears and apprehension, displacements have been taking place. In these recent years I have been interacting with those displaced from the rural stretches of North India. Mind you, forced shifts in the rural belts are pointers to bigger disasters. After all, when communal politics reaches rural stretches and hits the poor, it reeks of eerie build-ups. Yet, today, many families are getting uprooted from their base! With the State standing as a mute force or even as a collaborator!

With hunger and deprivation on the rise, the masses do not want to hear any of those stale speeches. Enough! Only freshly made daal–rotis will do. But even these basics for everyday survival are difficult to get for a common man with constantly rising prices!

Unless civil society moves in and tries to rescue the hopeless situation, our young face a very bleak future. Hunger, deprivations, injustices are hitting the young as never before. With the future holding out little respite.

In fact, in certain regions, the so termed conflict regions, the young haven’t seen a single day of peace. There’s been only violence and counter violence, where locals as well as non- locals, from all possible communities, get killed.

‘FabIndia’ had to withdraw its ad: Jashn-e-Riwaaz!

Well, the ground reality has turned so very pathetic that the popular outlet Fab India had to withdraw its ad – Jashn- e Riwaaz! Why? Because some of its clients or buyers or the communal characters around didn’t quite approve of the Urdu sounding Jashn- e Riwaaz!

This is the dark reality of the day. So well seeped in is the communal poisoning that even a Urdu sounding word or phrase is not tolerated by the Right-Wing men and all those characters who are following them rather too blindly…The stark reality of the day is that this ‘connecting language’, Urdu, lies crushed in the midst of the communal virus spreading out as never before.

Around 2005, I had met a researcher, Valerio Pietrangelo at the Jamia Millia Islamia. I was a visiting professor at that university and he was pursuing advanced study of Urdu and Arabic from the University of Rome and had travelled to Jamia Millia Islamia as part of his research work on ‘Partition Literature in Urdu, Written by Women.’

With that in the backdrop, I had asked him to comment on the Indian Muslims he’d been meeting and also his comments on their mother tongue, Urdu. Valerio was forthright, "As my main concern has always been Urdu language and literature, my contact with the Muslim community in India has always been filtered by my perception of the language issue. My impression is that Muslims are in a certain sense a backward community, at least many of them. As I met Muslims, I realised how dramatically they are shifting to Hindi and other Indian languages since government is not promoting Urdu language and literature. I think language is an essential element of group identity, therefore, I feel that Muslim identity is threatened.”

And Khushwant Singh minced no words, detailing the slow death of this language, “Urdu is dying a slow death in the land where it was born and where it flourished. The number of students who take it as a subject in schools and colleges is dwindling…Apart from Kashmir, where Urdu is taught from the primary to the post-graduate levels, in the rest of India it is the second or third language. With the passing of years it has come to be dubbed as the language of the Muslims, which is far from the truth.”


Khushwant would recite these verses of Urdu poets Rashid and Khurshid Afsar Bisrani, focusing on the near-death of Urdu.

Rashid’s verse: Maangey Allah se bas itni dua hai Rashid /

Main jo Urdu mein vaseeyat likhoon beta parh ley.

(All Rashid asks of Allah is just one small gift/ If I write my will in Urdu, may my son be able to read it.)

Khurshid Afsar Bisrani’s verse: Ab Urdu kya hai ek kothey kee tawaif hai /

Mazaa har ek leta hai,mohabbat kaun karta hai.

(What is Urdu now but a whore in a whorehouse /Whoever wants has fun with her, very few love her.)

In today’s India, Urdu stands reduced to such lows that knowledge of Urdu cannot ensure employment; nor the basic means to survival. Unfortunately, we have grossly neglected this language which carries the subtle power to heal and control emotions! A study conducted by the Lucknow based Centre for Biomedical Researches (CBMR) published in an edition of international journal ‘Neuroscience Letters’ states that reading Urdu script and Urdu couplets helps in brain development. This report, based on extensive research, goes to prove that learning and reading Urdu couplets help in controlling emotions, coping with stress, delaying dementia. It could also be helpful for children with learning disabilities.

I can say with much confidence that another positive is this — Urdu couplets, dripping with romantic strains, carry the ability to distract one from the dark realities of the day.

Perhaps, this particular verse of Sahir Ludhianvi relays the stark dark truth of the hypocrisy ridden times we are surviving in:

The same cities where once Ghalib’s voice resounded

Now have disavowed Urdu, made it homeless

The day that announced the arrival of freedom

Also declared Urdu a cursed and treacherous language

The same government that once crushed a living tongue

Now wishes to mourn and honour the dead

The man you call Ghalib was a poet of Urdu

Why praise Ghalib after suppressing his language.

(Views are personal)

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